Diplomats fail to set date for Syria peace conference
Seniors diplomats failed on Wednesday to set a date for a widely anticipated international peace conference for Syria amid continued disagreement over the list of participants.
"It will not be possible to hold this conference in June," UN peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Geneva, adding that the talks, which will be hosted by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, could happen "hopefully in July."
Brahimi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman in the Swiss city Wednesday to pave the way for a new international conference aimed at ending the spiralling conflict in Syria.
The conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is meant to follow up on an initial Geneva meeting last June 30 that produced a never-implemented power transition plan for Syria.
The initial plan had been for the talks to be held early this month, but Brahimi said the preparations had run into a significant sticking point: "the Syrian component."
The aim, he said, "is to get the Syrian sides, without preconditions, to see how they can implement the communique of June 30... And the Syrian sides are not ready," he said.
"This conference cannot be held without Syrian delegations. The Syrian delegations have not been formed yet," he said in Arabic, according to a UN translation.
Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov was more explicit about the difficulties.
"Right now the most complicated issue is perhaps about a list of conference participants," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies in Geneva.
"The entire issue is that unlike the government, the Syrian opposition has not decided in principle on the participation in the conference," he said, adding the Syrian opposition also could not agree on who exactly will represent it at the meeting.
The Syrian regime has agreed in principle to participate in the conference, but Syria's main opposition has refused to attend as long as fighters from Iran and the Islamist-militia Hezbollah are fighting in Syria alongside Assad's forces.
It has also so far reportedly rejected names put forward by the Syrian regime as possible interlocutors, while continuing to demand Assad's departure.
A senior US official, who asked not to be named, told reporters that one stumbling block was "the opposition coalition forming itself, naming its representatives, agreeing on a delegation."
But, the official added, there was also "not yet full clarity on who the regime will send and what that delegation will look like."
Last year's talks involved top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain -- and representatives of Turkey, the Arab League and the European Union.
This time, Russia is pushing hard for Iran, another key Assad ally, to have some kind of role, despite concerns from the West about including the Islamic republic, which it accuses of shoring up the Syrian regime.
An estimated 94,000 people have died and millions have been displaced in the conflict which erupted when Assad cracked down on a popular uprising in March 2011.
"The situation in Syria is absolutely tragic," Brahimi said, acknowledging that "it is embarrassing for us that we are not capable of building this conference already."
He said would host a new preparatory meeting in Geneva on June 25.
© 2013 AFP